By now you’ve heard the Arizona Coyotes are getting kicked out of their current home Gila River Arena at the end of this season. By now you’ve also heard their main plan is to play at the Arizona State University rink that’s opening next season until they can build a new arena in Tempe, Arizona. By now, you’ve also heard the jokes about the Coyotes playing in an arena that’s only 5,000 seats.
Make all the jokes you want about Arizona’s attendance woes, but Arizona is reportedly selling an average of 11,703 seats a game. Sure, that makes an arena of 17,000 seats look empty, but that means that Arizona will be selling 6,000 fewer tickets per game next year if this plan goes through. Fewer seats sold means less hockey-related revue from tickets, food, and in-arena purchases.
Fewer seats to sell means less hockey-related revenue. Even if it’s one team, could fewer ticket sales mean less money for player salaries?
Yahoo Sports Canada reported on an article from the Athletic that many front office executives in the NHL weren’t happy with the college arena situation. Namely, they were worried the “embarrassing” plan would lead to less revenue. Owners and executives being afraid of lost revenue is nothing news, but the Yahoo Sports article ended with one interesting forewarning:
"As of now, we haven’t heard the perspectives from players on this, other than Brad Marchand who poked fun at the Coyotes organization on Twitter. However, if they do indeed end up playing out of Arizona State next season, you can expect to hear more players and money-losing owners speak out."
Quite honestly, opposing players are not going to come out and complain about Arizona’s arena situation. Some Arizona players might make a few comments, but for the vast majority of NHL players, there are more important things on their “to-do” list.
If Arizona’s new arena situation leads to less hockey-related revenue, low enough to be felt in league-wide finances, that raises the possibility that player pay could go down. Less hockey-related revenue would theoretically affect salary cap calculations and the amount of money teams have to spend on player contracts. All of this is happening during a time of stagnant player wages and a stagnant salary cap.
It’s entirely possible that Arizona’s less than optimal temporary home could lead to less money in NHL player pockets. Perhaps it’s just the excuse used by team owners to justify players not getting the raises they want. Either way it happens, if the Coyotes only having 5,000 seats to sell a night results in players carrying the financial burden, then you can expect players to start speaking out.
The league’s collective bargaining agreement runs through the end of the 2025-2026 season. We should have labor peace until then. The Coyotes say they want their new Tempe Arena done by 2025, but didn’t mention if it would be ready for the 2025-2026 or 2024-2025 season. That’s if all goes to plan and there’s still a lot that can go wrong.
The city of Tempe recently rejected the Coyotes’ latest proposal. That likely delays the plan, at best. These timeframes set up the Coyotes status and finances to be a major potential problem when it’s time to work on a new CBA.
If players start to speak out, the league might finally be pressured to abandon the Arizona hockey market. An unnamed executive in the Yahoo Sports article predicted this, but not with the added element of angry players.
As much as Gary Bettman would love a shiny new hockey barn in Tempe, all but assuring the Coyotes never move during his tenure, you want to keep the players and their paychecks happy.